Futurama, Season Two, Episode Eighteen, “The Honking”

Written by: Ken Keeler
Directed by: Susie Dietter
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

This is definitely on the lower end of the NONESSENTIAL category. I refuse to get too pedantic with the categories because that’s boring to me, but admittedly that does lead to putting this in the same category as “War Is The H-Word”. Its problem is that none of its central conceits are particularly funny or interesting. The concept of a werecar has potential, but it never seems to kick into gear – it’s like seeing someone try and start a fire by hitting rocks together and not getting much more than sparks. You can compare it to the absolute joy of the opening scenes, which packs just about every joke you can get out of a robot ghost story into a scant three minutes; the rest of the episode seems to contain the same amount of energy stretched out over a much longer time. The funniest plot point is when the characters follow the chain of robots trying to find the original werecar; specifically, the Alaskan robot with a thick accent and the dip into Calculon’s life are very funny to me for expanding our little world in a way that still feels weirdly logical. The werecar stuff rarely has that kind of effect; the funniest stuff in that context is a car built out of the most evil cars of history.

The other thing that bothers me is how the emotional content is unsatisfying. One of the underrated skills of Futurama is the way it perfectly fits plots to character – some of the best episodes place the characters in situations where they’re forced to draw on their weaknesses, only to find a strength that neither we nor they realised they had all along. All my favourite examples of this for Fry, Leela, and Bender are still in the episodes we’ll talk about in the future; for now, I’ll just say that “Godfellas” is my all-time favourite example of this, putting Bender in a deeply philosophical plot that he should be woefully ill-equipped to handle and coming to a wonderfully Bender-like conclusion. With the ones we have seen, “A Bicyclops Built For Two” is the best example of what I mean, where Leela’s problem is one that requires not her usual fast-acting problem-solving but some emotional introspection and a willingness to be selfish. Even when they don’t get that deep, the writers are pretty good about attaching character to plots that aren’t actively wrong. Bender makes sense as the driving force of “A Head In The Polls” and “Bender Gets Made” even if neither episode is doing something interesting with him specifically.

Here, I keep finding myself asking “beyond the fact that he’s a robot, why is this story about Bender?”. When you get right down to it, I honestly don’t think Bender would be all that bothered by being a werecar – the turn where he realises he actually likes the transformation and the possibility of killing people feels like it should have come much earlier. We’ve seen Bender be terrified for his life before, and we’ve seen him be worried about his effect on his friends, but neither of those beats feel quite right here. I think it’s because Bender comes off too compassionate here, terrified of what he’s done to someone else when his first thought has always been how something will affect him, Bender. This makes a lot of sense as a Bender plot but it makes more sense as a Fry story. Speaking of Fry, his emotional plot in this feels really weird and wrong too; he’s stupid and needy but he’s not that stupid and needy. Actually, if anything, it sounds like a Bender story! It’s funny how this show has a very flexible attitude towards characterisation – yet another way it parallels The Simpsons, switching a commitment to characterisation for a commitment to continuity – and yet there are still clear limits on what these people will do.

Title Card: Smell-o-vision users insert nostril tubes now
Cartoon Billboard: Bold King Cole, 1936

To be fair, Bender walking into a room and singing his own name loudly is a perfect summation of his character, and Hermes casually muting him is a perfect capper as he dances in the background. To be even more fair, while Bender’s actions don’t feel very Bendery, his dialogue is absolutely on fire (“Goodbye losers, whom I’ve always hated!”). The continued witty dialogue is what saves this from being bad, although there are a lot more decontextualised jokes that kind of just sit there because they’re not developing the premise. The binary that Bender sees reads as 357 forward and 666 in the mirror. The joke solution for the robot ghost story is some hilarious faux-sub-Scooby Doo nonsense. I do enjoy Bender’s car design. Calculon’s werecar turn happened in the far-off future of 2019.

“Ye think he be me?”
“Ni. I mean no.”

The painting with moving eyes is Commodore LXIV, a reference to the Commodore 64. Tandy’s shirt is a reference to the TRS-80. The ghosts Bender sees and hears include the Windows logo, the Windows startup sound, and the Flying Toasters After Dark screensavers. Blood on the wall that turns into a message when seen in a mirror is a reference to The Shining. Bender’s werecar form is based on the car from The Car. Fry makes a reference to Carmageddon to entice Bender to chase him. The mumbo jumbo line is a reference to a line from the horror film The Black Cat. Calculon claims to have been David Duchovny. The werecar includes the windscreen wipers of KITT from Knight Rider.

Iconic Moments: 1. “You’ve been drinking too much, or too little. I forget how it works with you sometimes. Anyway, you haven’t been drinking exactly the right amount.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “The Cryonic Woman”. “For one beautiful night I knew what it was like to be a grandmother. Subjugated, yet honored.”